US Congress Approves Historic Protections for Great Lakes

The National Wildlife Federation applauds the U.S. Congress for passing historic protections to prevent the diversion of Great Lakes water and to promote water conservation in the region

09-23-2008 // Jordan Lubetkin

WASHINGTON, DC--The National Wildlife Federation and Alliance for the Great Lakes applaud the U.S. Congress for sealing historic protections for the Great Lakes that have been a decade in the making.

The U.S. House today approved the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, an eight-state water management agreement to protect the nation's largest fresh surface water resource from depletion.

U.S. Reps. John Conyers (D-MI), Vern Ehlers (R-MI), Rahm Emanuel (D-IL), Steve LaTourette (R-OH) and Jim Oberstar (D-MN) were instrumental in passing the compact. Approved unanimously by the Senate in August with the leadership of U.S. Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), Arlen Specter (R-PA) and George Voinovich (R-OH), the compact's final stop is with President Bush, who has said he will sign the agreement.

"This is a historic day for all of us who depend on the Great Lakes--and that's millions of people, businesses, farmers and communities," said Andy Buchsbaum, regional executive director of the National Wildlife Federation's Great Lakes office. "For the first time ever, the Great Lakes will be truly protected from water depletion. The Great Lakes Compact will keep the Great Lakes great for the next millennium."

Together with companion laws in the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Quebec, the compact stresses conservation and establishes first-of-its-kind decision-making standards for Great Lakes water use.

"That Congress moved so quickly on these historic water conservation standards is a sign that our nation's leaders see the Great Lakes as a national icon," said Alliance President Cameron Davis, who along with NWF's Buchsbaum helped draft the compact. "This doesn't just signal the importance of the Great Lakes to those of us who live, work and play in the region -- it signals to the rest of the world that water conservation is a global imperative."

The compact's passage follows a frenetic few months, before which it had shown signs of resistance. After adoption by just two of the eight Great Lakes states in a two-year span, the compact sped through six state legislatures in six months. By mid-July, it had won support from all eight Great Lakes states--Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin--setting the stage for today's dramatic vote in Congress.

"When hope appeared lost, the people, elected officials, and businesses of our region united around the Great Lakes and got the job done," said Marc Smith, Great Lakes state policy manager for the National Wildlife Federation. "Critical to this effort were the eight Great Lakes governors and the more than 1,300 state legislators who voted for the compact. Congress has now followed suit. President Bush has already expressed his support and we look forward to his signing the compact into law."

Both major party presidential nominees -- Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)--consented to the legislation.

The Great Lakes contain more than 90 percent of the fresh surface water in the United States. Though seemingly abundant, less than 1 percent of the Great Lakes water is renewed each year, leaving the lakes vulnerable to depletion.

Work on the compact began 10 years ago, when the Great Lakes governors convened a special binational task force and an advisory committee to respond to the threat of water diversions to Asia. The task force first developed a set of principles called the 2001 Annex to the Great Lakes Charter, and then spent seven years turning those principles into the binding laws that were enacted by the eight Great Lakes states and now Congress.

NWF and the Alliance, both appointed to the governors' advisory committee, played major roles in developing the compact and working with state and national leaders to enact the agreement.

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The National Wildlife Federation is America's conservation organization inspiring Americans to protect wildlife for our children's future.
For more information: Great Lakes

Formed in 1970, the Alliance for the Great Lakes (formerly the Lake Michigan Federation) is the oldest citizens' Great Lakes organization in North America. Its mission is to conserve and restore the world's largest freshwater resource using policy, education and local efforts, ensuring a healthy Great Lakes and clean water for generations of people and wildlife. More about the Alliance is online at www.greatlakes.org.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 23, 2008

CONTACT:
Andy Buchsbaum, (734) 717-3665, buchsbaum@nwf.org
Marc Smith, (734) 887-7116, msmith@nwf.org
Cameron Davis, (312) 375-2004, CDavis@greatlakes.org
Jordan Lubetkin, (734) 887-7109, lubetkin@nwf.org

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